By Maya Heimes
In recent years, school shootings in the U.S. have been on the rise. Places like Columbine, Parkland, and Newtown were not on the map until devastating school shootings took lives. These shootings have alarmed students, parents, and teachers across the country. Although Central New York has not had many threats of school shootings, there is always a chance, and that chance has affected many. Mr. David McCusker, Head of School, says, “It gets our attention. It’s really scary and it’s awful. So, I have a responsibility and we have a responsibility, as a school, to do everything we can to ensure the safety of all of our community members, students first and foremost and everyone else.”
One of the major components of campus security is locking all of the exterior doors except the main entrance. At the beginning of the school year, a new security system was established (similar to that of the Center for Early Learning), prohibiting the entrance of potentially harmful guests. Visitors must buzz-in and Colleen Xavier, Receptionist and Attendance Officer, decides if they can proceed into the school, communicating with them through a speaker and identifying them with a camera.
Furthermore, as Mr. McCusker says, “We have some school cameras in certain locations around the school and we learned that not all of them were operational, so those have been replaced to make them work as they should.” Manlius Pebble Hill staff members are taking into account the reliability of past security measures to ensure the safety of students in the current educational climate.
With the construction of the gym and the connection to the library, the STEAM park has also been closed off, which allows for outdoor spaces where students can feel fully safe. Now, no one can walk up behind the school to get in, but instead are required to use the main entrance. However, there have been cases where doors in the back are propped open, which causes a security threat. Staff are making efforts to ensure this will not happen and are cautioning students against leaving doors open.
Even before the rise of school shootings, there have been active shooter drills to prepare staff and students if a shooter is ever spotted on the premises. Mr. McCusker says, “I think it’s important that we are participating in various drills (we’ve done a number of fire drills), so that there is a good understanding in the community of what we do.”
The possibility of school shootings affects the school community not only physically, but also mentally. Although it may not be very apparent, many students and faculty have anxiety or sorrow over this issue. Some are upset by the news of school shootings and some over the security of the school itself.
Ms. Joy Strickland, Director of Counseling, states, “I feel with the increase of school shootings, people aren’t as openly anxious about them, though, I believe that people are.” Ms.Strickland goes on to say, “I think it is important for students to know that they are in a safe environment, physically and emotionally. I think that our school is pretty good about if a student has concerns or speaks out in a way or acts in a way that raises flags. I would hope people would feel comfortable bringing it to our attention. I think that’s the beauty of our small community.”
MPH has created multiple stress-down days and different attempts to address mental health in the community. Recently, to alleviate overall stress within the school, Mr. McCusker and Mr. Leclerq instituted a “stress down day.” Speaker Dr. Elizabeth Perryman talked to the students of various ages how to keep proper mentality in times of stress. She introduced techniques suitable for the different age groups, even having a meeting with MPH’s staff.
Manlius Pebble Hill has tried to help the community by changing security features of the school (locking doors, buzz-in systems, and drills), which will hopefully allow the school to be prepared should anything happen. While some students may be upset that it takes longer to get into school, many feel safer with the changes.